FOOTBALL: Villa thrive on Merson spirit but lose Dublin to injury

Aston Villa 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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The Independent Online
JOHN GREGORY's luck might finally be changing after a year where life at Aston Villa has been in a constant downward spiral. Last Thursday the Villa manager saw his team eliminated from the Worthington Cup after losing to West Ham on penalties, but because their opponents fielded an ineligible player the two teams must replay the tie. On Saturday, despite missing two penalties and hitting a post, his side chalked up their first win in 10 Premiership games and moved up to twelfth in the table.

This well-deserved victory was never about the rub of the green, it was about perseverance and effort, mixed in with Paul Merson's ingenuity and inspiration. Such was the quantity of chances they created, mostly with Merson involved, it was only a matter of time before they broke down the Wednesday defence.

The fact that it took Villa until 20 minutes before the end to score was a testament to Pavel Srnicek's agility in the Wednesday goal and Villa's weakness from the penalty spot. In their last two games, four different players have missed from 12 yards. Alan Wright and Gareth Southgate missed against West Ham and Dion Dublin and Merson both had their efforts in this game brilliantly saved by Srnicek.

But Gregory, watching from the stands as he serves out his 28-day touchline ban, praised his players afterwards for the way they kept pushing on, despite their failure from the spot. "We showed desire and collective spirit," he said. "It's quite easy to go into your shell when things are going against you, but these guys don't do that."

And it was Merson, the epitome of that spirit, who led the fightback after they went behind to Gilles de Bilde's 21st minute penalty. The former England international had a 16-minute purple patch in the second half that saw him equalise with a curling shot from 20 yards. Although Merson then missed from the spot after 73 minutes, he still had the energy to cross for Taylor to head the winner at the far post with eight minutes left, making Dublin's 33rd-minute penalty miss redundant.

Gregory said he did not mind being away from the dug-out. For Danny Wilson, the Wednesday manager, his current plight must be torture, as his side are rooted to the foot of the Premiership and are displaying a worrying lack of self-belief. Wilson commented that he did not think his side would lose, but a glance at the harsh truth of the league table should have told him that another defeat was the likely outcome.

Goals: De Bilde (pen 21) 0-1; Merson (70), 1-1; Taylor (82) 2-1.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): James; Southgate, Ehiogu, Barry; Watson, Boateng, Wright (Joachim, 39), Taylor; Merson; Dublin (Calderwood, 86), Carbone (Vassell, 82). Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Stone.

Sheffield Wednesday (3-5-2) Srnicek; Atherton, Walker, Thome; Alexandersson, Jonk (Sibon, 83), Quinn (Haslam, 53), Sonner, Nolan; Booth, De Bilde. Substitutes not used: Pressman (gk), Cresswell, Nicholson.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington).

Bookings: Aston Villa: Taylor. Sheffield Wednesday: Sonner, Quinn.

Man of the match: Merson.

Attendance: 23,885.

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